Monday, March 25, 2013

HSUS & the 1st Amendment

. . . without regard to the breed or heritage of the dog
Maryland HB 78 / SB 160

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Revised: March 26, 2013; 14:04 GMT
To: The Maryland ACLU
       Susan Goering, Executive Director
       Sara Love, Public Policy Director
       Meredith Curtis, Communications Director
       and others

The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering legislation which, if signed into law, would abrogate the Court of Appeals finding that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. Both the House and the Senate have passed versions of the bill but differences remain. A joint conference committee is now trying to reconcile the two versions before the legislative session closes on April 8th.

The issue in question is one of our country's intractable problems, in the same way that gun ownership, a woman's right to choose, or immigration are intractable and polarizing. These issues, and the issue we are about to mention, are contentious because partisans on either side of the issue cross gender, economic, education, political and cultural boundaries, and have convictions based on faith and emotions rather than on reason.

The history of the current legislation is too complex to explain in a single email, but it began with the Court of Appeals ruling of April 26, 2012, which found pit bulls inherently dangerous. During a recent 57 day period pit bulls killed six humans, for an average of a canine homicide every nine and a half days. Supporting evidence for these deaths (in the form of news accounts) can be found on Fatal Pit Bull Attacks. These deaths and attacks on humans as well as on our more vulnerable animal companions, confirm the Court's finding.

SRUV is an animal welfare blog which advocates for public safety restrictions on pit bulls. Our opponents on this issue are the HSUS and nearly every other animal welfare institution in the country. They are good people doing good work, but wrong-headed on this issue. The HSUS has  influenced the legislation under consideration in Maryland (HB 78 / SB 160) and have thrown their considerable resources into making certain the bill passes. Aligned with the animal advocates are the Maryland property and insurance lobbies.

The new legislation contains a provision which is of vital interest to the ACLU. Included at the insistence of the Humane Society is the phrase without regard to the breed or heritage of the dog. This seemingly innocuous phrase has vast implications. According to our reading of SB 160, future victims of pit bull attacks would be prohibited by state law from naming the breed of the attacking dog. Pit bull attacks are unlike attacks by any other breed of dog; the bodily harm inflicted is not comparable; victims must be able to call a Spade a Spade.

This "breed neutral" provision, in effect, puts a gag rule on victims of pit bull attacks; they would not be allowed to call an attacking pit bull a pit bull. A future victim, perhaps the next Dominic Solesky, would not be able to say he was attacked by a pit bull. This restriction is an infringement of First Amendment rights and a violation of free speech. The rights of a victim to seek redress would be severely impaired.

The ACLU has been our country's foremost defender of our citizens' right to freely express themselves. This inalienable right is even more important to the victim of an attack who goes before a court to seek redress. We respectfully ask for your assistance in persuading the Maryland General Assembly that HB 78 and SB 160 includes provisions which deprive citizens of their basic Constitutional rights.

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This post is one of a series on the Maryland pit bull conundrum. To view the index of all Maryland posts click here.

In a recent 57 day period (Jan 8 through Mar 6, 2013) there were six fatal pit bull attacks, all of which were committed by family pit bulls. See Fatal Pit Bull Attacks

Statistics are from Dog attack deaths and maimings, U.S. & Canada, published by Animal People. To view or download the current PDF click here.

House, Senate Still at impasse
   (Baltimore Sun, March 27, 2013)
Pit Bull Owners Left in Limbo Over Liability
   (Washington Post Opinion, March 23, 2013)
Amendment may kill pit bull legislation in Maryland
   (WBAL TV 11, March 15, 2013)
House, Senate Far Apart On Legislation
   (Baltimore Sun, March 14, 2013)
Pit bull bill in Peril as Senate Hardens Position
   (Baltimore Sun, March 12, 2013)
Senate, House Considering Different Pit Bull Bills
   (WBAL 1090 AM, March 12, 2013)
Senate Dog-Bite Bill Different From House
   (CBS DC, March 12, 2013)
Dog bite victim's uncle talks about saving her
   (, March 11, 2013)
Pit bull bill compromise unravels
   (Baltimore Sun, March 8, 2013)
Court partly backs off pit bull ruling
   (Baltimore Sun, August 21, 2012)

Google News: Today's pit bull attacks